Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

Album: single release (1926)

Songfacts®:

  • Also known as "Motherless Child," this African American spiritual from the US Civil War era depicts the anguish of slaves torn from their families, their homeland, and even their own identities. Paul Robeson, a former lawyer-turned-actor, recorded the sorrowful tune in his signature baritone. The African American singer was the son of a runaway slave and faced racial prejudice during his time as a star athlete at Rutgers University.
  • Folk singer Richie Havens closed his opening set at Woodstock with an impromptu tune called "Freedom," built on the melody of "Motherless Child." By the time he was called out for his final encore, Havens had run out of songs to sing until he remembered the old gospel tune his grandmother used to sing to him as a child in Brooklyn.

    The next act to take the stage was Sweetwater, and their first song was "Motherless Child," which was part of their repertoire.
  • A 1923 recording by Lois Deppe, accompanied by Earl Hines on piano, was used in the Boardwalk Empire episode "Sunday Best" in 2010.
  • Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang this as a medley with the Gershwin tune "Summertime" from the musical Porgy & Bess.
  • Robeson's recording was included in the 2002 roots music collection When the Sun Goes Down, Vol 1: Walk Right In.
  • Featured in the 1968 documentary Elvis, Elvis Presley and Darlene Love sang this as part of a medley of spirituals.
  • Irish singer Van Morrison covered this on his 1987 album, Poetic Champions Compose. In his book Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison, author Brian Hinton noted, "It is 'Mother Ireland' whom Van is missing and his world weary vocals are like sobs of pain." Morrison's version was used in the 2000 Roswell episode "Into The Woods."
  • Anika Noni Rose sang this when she played fictional blues singer Sara Tidwell in the 2011 TV adaptation of Stephen King's Bag of Bones.
  • Frank Sinatra sang this with Diahann Carroll in the 1967 TV special Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing.

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